I’ve heard interesting tidbits about Isreal’s desalination program over the years, but never realized how big it was, or how successful it was until recently when I came across this article which started with this impressive line:
“After experiencing its driest winter on record, Israel is responding as never before — by doing nothing.”
India and Isreal have vastly different geographies but I was still curious to see if there were any lessons for India from this program specially since California has tied up with an Israeli company to build a desalination plant which will be operational in 2016 and provide 50 million gallons of potable water in a day.
Fundamentally, water desalination is the process of taking sea water and purifying it to make it potable. One method to do this and used by Israeli companies is called “Seawater Reverse Osmosis“. In this process, seawater is run through pre-filtration pipes to clean it prior to running it through another filtration process that removes all of the salt. About half the water becomes potable, but the remaining half retains higher concentration of salts and minerals, and that is then returned to the sea.
This is an expensive process, and it is estimated that desalinized water costs $0.65 per cubic meter while water from fresh water sources costs about $0.15 per cubic meter. This process also requires electricity of course, and the usual sources of generating electricity are hydro, coal or natural gas.
Then there is the impact to the environment, although I couldn’t find any reports that conclusively said the effects were bad for the environment, it probably hasn’t been that long since this process has been in use to provide any conclusive evidence one way or another.
Interestingly enough, desalination is not only done to sea water but also to brackish water, which is the kind of water that’s more saline than fresh water, but less so than regular sea water, which immediately reminded me of how water used to be in Noida several years ago. This kind of water is usually found in estuaries where sea water and fresh water meets. Israel has got several smaller plants that treat brackish water in addition to its larger plants that treat seawater.
While desalination is the attention grabbing action, there are other things that they have done which are less glamorous but also quite effective. They have what is called the “National Water Carrier of Israel” which is a system of canals, pipes and reservoirs that transfers fresh water from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the central and southern regions of the country.
They also have a highly efficient system of recycling water, and using treated sewage water for irrigation purposes which is done very efficiently there, and in 2009 the UN named Israel the world leader in water recycling.
Going through all this information about Israel’s program shows you how effective their multi-pronged effort has been and they have not only made progress in sea-water desalination which grabs headlines but other relatively cheaper alternatives too like treating brackish water or building a network of canals which might be easier for other countries to follow at first.